Change the past
January 11, 2013 by
Categories: Acceptance, Emotions

“Our past is what we want it to be.”

One thing that has struck me lately in a few conversations I have had, is how much our past can change. Not in the sense that we can build a time machine out of a Delorian. The events themselves are static, but the frames in which we see the past have a significant impact in the way we feel and see ourselves today. While this isn’t new from a psychological perspective (we know that several people can witness the same event and provide just as many different accounts), it is interesting to me how tightly we hold to these frames, even when they make us so miserable.

Image by Phil Sexton

Image by Phil Sexton

I think part of why we hold so tightly is because we believe that our perspective is the “true” perspective. We believe it is the only accurate way of seeing things. We don’t want to fool ourselves into thinking that maybe things weren’t that bad. Also, sometimes, we don’t want to allow ourselves to think that maybe they were worse.

Another reason is that by allowing ourselves to challenge our perspectives, it does mean reopening some potentially painful experiences. Sometimes we just want to stick with a conclusion we arrived at after the event- it was our fault, we are damaged, things could’ve been worse, it’s all their fault- and not think about it any more. Even though reopening, especially with a close friend or therapist, can mean reassessing and changing the way we feel now- hopefully for the better.

I think our culture also contributes to our holding on. When we are presented with anything that requires interpretation, we seek to find the correct one. We see this all the time in politics–how many different ways can one event be given a different spin? (At least two in a two-party dominated country!) When it comes to any art form, we tend to want a simple, single interpretation. Other cultures recognize that there is value in being able to see things from multiple interpretations. It makes life more rich as we are able to focus on the symbolism rather than debate a specific meaning.

Viewing our past can go through a different process. I believe it is ok to have many different interpretations, even though some may contradict each other. These different interpretations can give depth to our current experience, as we lay down today what will be tomorrow’s past.

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